Time has run out for the Harper Strategy on climate change.
If the goal is to keep climate change off the public agenda, the most effective strategy is not the ‘hard denialist’ strategy of rejection but the soft strategy of omission: saying as little as possible, preferably nothing, to keep the topic off the agenda.
“Nowhere in Canada is the impact of climate change more increasingly evident than the North. And yet, the words ‘climate change’ are never heard from Mr. Harper in the North, as if the idea they connote are so distasteful that he cannot bring himself to utter them.”
No denial, just no recognition. And hence a standard for others in power to follow, whether politicians, business people or editors: serious people don’t have serious public concerns about climate change, so that decisions today need not take into account tomorrow’s probable reality.
The strategy works only so long as nothing too serious happens too frequently. That results in fear, and then anger, and then bad things politically. And then you have to say something. If you have nothing substantial to say about climate change – because the whole strategy was never to do anything substantial – then you’re in trouble. As George Bush quickly discovered in his indifferent response to Hurricane Katrina.
And as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison just found out.
As people yell at the Prime Minister when he visits their devastated communities, or howl for his blood on social media, the story of Bush’s failure to immediately recognise a catastrophe and the urgent need for leadership it represented, tells us what problems are created by Scott Morrison’s perplexing failures of political and policy judgement in recent weeks. …
… the scale of this ongoing catastrophe — which on Thursday saw the biggest peacetime evacuation in our history — and its likely length, means the Prime Minister and his Government will be daily confronting the realities of climate change in their response, however much they continue to choke on the words.
These fires have made climate change a reality of the present tense for many Australians, not something that we can put off to the future.
Conservative politicians like Bush, Harper and Andrew Scheer calculated that doing less than the minimum needed would fly with the public so long as the right words were mouthed:
The parrot-like references to “meeting and beating” targets has been very effective at blocking any real focus on what policies the Government claims are actually driving this emissions reduction miracle without any pain to anybody.
When you look it turns out that the policy cupboard is pretty bare. The Government’s quarterly figures on what has driven emissions lists figures without any real obvious help from government policy.
Now they have to respond to emergencies on such a scale that the word ‘apocalyptic’ is an acceptable, new-normal descriptor. Then they have to find a new ‘business-as-usual” model when they doubt there is one, while still defending fossil fuels as business as usual.
The real test, however, may not be on what the Government does on cutting emissions, but on how it leads us to confront the sorts of brutal adaptations current events show us we now face: not just the immediate effects of disasters, but the questions they raise like building standards, towns that governments will not able to afford to rebuild, and communities that have run out of water.
There is, of course, another response: take the offense. Double down on denial.